How do doctors care for coma patients?

Discovery Health

First, doctors ensure the patient is in no immediate danger of dying. This may require hooking up the patient to a breathing machine. Other serious or life-threatening injuries to the rest of the body are then tackled in decreasing order of severity.

If the coma was caused by excess pressure in the brain, doctors can relieve it by placing a tube inside the skull and draining the fluid. A procedure called hyperventilation, which speeds breathing to constrict blood vessels in the brain, can also relieve pressure.

The doctor may also apply medication to prevent seizures.

If a drug overdose or condition such as very low blood sugar is responsible, doctors try to correct this as soon as possible.

Patients with acute ischemic strokes may receive special clot-dissipating medication in an effort to restore cranial blood flow.

Doctors may use imaging technology to look inside the brain and identify a tumor, pressure and signs of brain tissue damage. Electroencephalography (EEG) is a test used to detect abnormalities in brain electrical activity, but it can also show tumors, infections, and other conditions that might have caused the coma. If an infection such as meningitis is suspected, the doctor may perform a spinal tap to make the diagnosis by testing spinal cord fluid.

Next, doctors will concentrate on keeping the patient as healthy as possible. Coma patients are prone to pneumonia and other infections. Many comatose patients stay in the hospital's intensive care unit. People in a coma for a long time may get physical therapy to prevent long-term muscle damage. Nurses will also move them periodically to prevent bedsores caused by lying in one position too long.

A ventilator-dependent coma patient may receive a tracheotomy-a special tube that goes directly into the windpipe through the front of the throat. Because patients who are in a coma can't urinate on their own, they will have a rubber tube called a catheter inserted directly into the bladder to remove the urine.

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